Shifting from “educational” to “classroom ready” TTRPGs

With a wider community acceptance of the idea that games provide players with benefits to skill development, many publishers are releasing educational TTRPGs.  However, for these games to be widely accepted in a classroom setting and to actually be accessible to educators who are stretched on time and resources, it’s important to make sure that your game is not just educational but that it’s also classroom ready.  

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What is the current state of educational TTRPGs?

As of right now, I have run into many excellent educational TTRPGs that are geared at providing some kind of learning benefit to players through their themes, mechanics, and role-playing.  

They often explain their educational utility by describing both the inherent cross-curriculum benefits that all TTRPGs have (simultaneously promoting reading via the game book, practicing math with mechanics, and SEL skill development through RP) and the unique benefits of that particular game (teaching about biology, additional writing goals, etc).  

These games are focused on improving particular skills, they state what they are doing, and then they are sent out into the world as an educational TTRPG.  

This means, however, that all the burden of going from a game document to an approved lesson plan with classroom implementation is put on the facilitator who often has limits on their time, resources, and curriculum controls. 

Having been on both the creator and educator side, I know how much work is required to both make a game and to integrate TTRPG elements into the class when there is no clear template.  I also fully recognize that I have historically been stopping at or just after the “statement of benefits” with my own games.  I want to change that and help others find resources to do the same with their games so we can have a strong and varied selection of educational games that teachers can easily use and get approved.

I want to take the standard from saying “my game CAN be used in a classroom” to “this is HOW my game WORKS in a classroom”.

Defining the “classroom ready TTRPG”

For this article, I’m going to define a “classroom ready” TTRPG (CRTTRPG) as a tabletop RPG that an educator can use, without modification and with minimal preparation, in their classroom.  

This means that it will work for a given class size, student skill level, time limit, etc. It will also need to have evaluation criteria, lesson plan support, and clear educational goals.  

A CRTTRPG will also need to be accessible to the teacher in terms of cost, resources, and understanding required to run the game as part of a lesson plan.

How to make your TTRPG “classroom ready”

To make your TTRPG “classroom ready” consider the points listed in this section for your game BEFORE you start designing it so that it is actually made for classroom use from the ground up.  

I do pose these points as questions because the answers are going to vary widely depending on your particular goals.  For example, acceptable session time is going to be different for a kindergarten class versus a middle school class versus a college class, so I don’t want to just state “it should fit in a 60 minute time period”.  You will need to determine the classroom setting that you want to target.

A process that you can use is: 

  1. Think about the classroom that you want to design a game for (i.e. grade, subject, particular lessons, etc)
  2. Create a plan for how you will address each question for that specific classroom
  3. Design your game to incorporate those elements
  4. Include an outline of these items in your game for the teacher to review and use

Considerations and questions for a “classroom ready” TTRPG

  • General accessibility – Do you expect students and teachers to have prior TTRPG experience?
  • Safety tools – Are there effective and concise safety tools that can be used with a full classroom?
  • Session time – Can a session fit into or be easily broken into standard class periods?
  • Class size – How can this work with typical student-teacher ratios for your target class?
  • Grade level – Is this at an appropriate reading and math level for your target grade’s skill level?
  • Rules accessibility – Can students and teachers learn the rules in a reasonable timeframe?
  • Content – Is content acceptable for a wide range of audiences (students, teachers, and parents) from different backgrounds?
  • Student reflection – How can students reflect on and talk about their experience to understand what they just learned?
  • Educational goals – What are the educational goals and how are they aligned with school standards that teachers can get approved?
  • Evaluation criteria – How can teachers show to the school that this is an effective teaching method? 
  • Facilitator resources – Is this game accessible considering teacher budgets and resources?  What materials are needed?
  • Facilitator prep – How long will it take the facilitator to prepare for the game?

Example “classroom ready” TTRPG design plan

Here, I’m going to show an example of a design plan for a CRTTRPG that can also be included as a page in the game itself to help the facilitator.  Because we want this to be accessible to facilitators, it’s important that the final version of this is concise and generally will fit on one page. 

  • General accessibility – No prior experience with TTRPGs required
  • Safety tools – Include 5 minute facilitator explanation of safety tools in game, X-card
  • Session time – 50 minutes (includes time for rules, safety tools, game, reflection, and evaluation)
  • Class size – 1 facilitator required, classes broken into groups of 3-5 students with self-lead content, 3-30 students in a class
  • Grade level – Meets US grades 4 Common Core Standards (CCS) 
  • Rules accessibility – explained throughout the game in stages and supported by handouts
  • Content – PG rating, non-combat focused
  • Student reflection – 5 minutes for student reflection with questions provided in the game
  • Educational goals – Teach students about process of photosynthesis (NSTA 4 Life Sciences Standard)
  • Evaluation criteria – 5 minutes post game survey included in game
  • Facilitator resources – Posted as free/PWYW, require [1] 6-sided die per student group or a dice roller app, printable materials
  • Facilitator prep – 10 minutes to read through material prior to class, time to print handouts

Making your “classroom ready” game

Once you’ve created your design plan, now is when I recommend that you start to actually write the game based on your criteria.  You can definitely add these parts afterwards, but it’s going to give you a much more focused and coherent educational flow than if you’re trying to smush elements in after your game has already been designed.

As you’re determining the mechanics, educational elements, and so on, check back to everything in this plan to make sure it’s hitting the goals needed for curriculum use.  Then, use it as a checklist at the end of your game creation process to ensure that you have evaluation materials, student reflection questions, and so on to support school criteria.

Templates and tools to add to your games to make them “classroom ready”

I just mentioned lesson plans, and that is one element that you can add to your game to significantly help educators both mechanically implement this in their classroom AND be encouraged to adopt this method (since it saves time with having the lesson plan already prepared). 

I’ve also mentioned, in the previous sections, about student reflections, post-game surveys, etc,  are additional tools that can help ease the burden on teachers and make your game a better fit for school use, if you included (either in the actual document or as a supplementary educator’s packet).

To help with generating all this material for your games, I’ve created a set of templates that you can apply to your TTRPG that gets it closer to that “classroom ready” target and eases the load on teachers.  

These templates are a free resource that you can find here, and they include

  • Class setting check list
  • Curriculum focused lesson plan
  • School approval proposal
  • Classroom accessible safety tools
  • Student reflection activities
  • Post-game evaluations
  • Tips for further improving accessibility

These templates and tools are released for free under the Creative Commons License, so you can use them in your own games to make them “classroom ready”.  You can also adjust them to fit your needs or make your own templates for specific schools, grades, or subjects.  

Other resources for your “classroom ready” TTRPG

To help further your knowledge base before making either educational or “classroom ready” games, I would recommend to check out these resources that both inform your creation process and give you some ideas on what educators are really looking for and need: 

My call to you when it comes to “classroom ready” TTRPGs

My call to you and to the rest of the TTRPG industry is to start considering deeper applications of educational games and intentionally outfitting them to meet the needs of those applications.  

It is totally fine to release an educational TTRPG that provides benefits to players and meets the needs of an after school group or home game while also helping provide educational elements.  

However, if you expect your game to be used in a classroom, it is imperative to provide educators with the resources to actually implement your game in this way.  It is not enough to say that your game can be used in a classroom and then require a teacher to spend their limited time and resources creating the remaining framework around your game to implement it in this way.

It is also critical that the industry starts to implement these processes now versus waiting for the educational system to catch up.  Educational systems are often slow to adopt new methodologies and require significant evidence based studies and data to gain wide acceptance.  Making more CRTTRPGs now is vital to getting a variety of accessible games to the teachers who DO have capability to implement them in their classrooms today so their experiences can build a foundation for common adoption of TTRPG use as an educational medium within the next 10+ years.  

If you wait for the system to catch up, your game will be behind others who have been used for almost a decade as a core educational tool.  This means you could be behind other games and creators OR that TTRPGs as a whole could fall behind other educational strategies that take its place as a studied teaching method simply due to a historical lack of resources supporting easy classroom TTRPG use.

Consider getting your TTRPGs ready for the classroom NOW so that it can be used by some teachers today and can become one of the foundational elements for formal educational use in the future so kids can gain all of the wonderful multi-faceted benefits that come from these amazing games. 

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